The somewhat physical card game of Menko (aka Bettan or Patchin) — wherein players ‘fwap’ cardboard rectangles or circles down on each other then claim whatever flips over — isn’t the most conducive to collectible items surviving the decades. These things were cheaply produced and designed to be disposable to start with, and were then physically abused during the normal course of play.
Finding intact gems from our beloved Japanese ninja craze of the 1960s, especially crown jewels like the run below, is a real gift from the shadow gods!
Regrettably the artists are unknown, and the actual properties (oft semi-to-un-officially “licensed” in the first place) can be difficult to decipher sometimes, but concrete info aside, we’re still left with some absolutely awesome vintage ninja imagery here…
These look right off the covers of the best-selling ninja textbooks of the day, portraying shadowy assassins and camouflaged covert agents in bombastic poses and color palettes for maximized sensationalism that no kid or action film fan could resist.
The above piece is my absolute favorite — the spitting image of Ryutaro Otomo from Castle of Owls (sourced from one of the publicly stills seen here), the weird knurled-looking rectangular sword guard, and check out that shuriken-dispensing dowel contraption on his belt!
The tight crop on the below suggests a larger scene of carnage — saboteurs in full night-mission regalia plummeting down onto unsuspecting victims during what could well be a castle conflagration of their own making. So much energy and action from such a small canvas…
Even the backs are cool.
The best thing about these old ‘cigarette cards’ or ‘gum cards’ as they are often mis-identified? They’re easily the cheapest relics of the 60s ninja boom you can easily score worldwide. A simple eBay search will lead you to myriad examples of collectible pulp emblazoned with the likes of tokusatsu supermen, sumo wrestlers, Western film icons, robots, monsters and yes, ninja.
Special thanks to Matthew Childs.